Corned Beef from Scratch
I realize this post is a little late for St. Patrick’s Day but file it under “good ideas for next year”!
A couple of weeks before St. Patrick’s Day I suddenly decided to make my own corned beef. This was surprising as I’ve never been a big corned beef person. I like it okay and have made it – using corned beef from the grocery store – a few times, but it’s certainly not a tradition or anything I’ve done regularly. I guess maybe it caught my attention last year around this time when I’d read several articles and recipes about making your own. I think with the increased interest in brining turkeys and chickens, beef was the next logical step and lots of people are talking about it.
I don’t know much about the history and different methods for making corned beef except that there are recipes for both wet and dry cures. I’m assuming the original idea was to preserve meat for one reason or another. And now you know as much as I do. I chose the brining method and found it fascinating that the process actually “pickles” the meat. In addition to salt, the brine contains spices that you might also use for pickling vegetables.
The recipe is straightforward, with only two things that might be considered a difficult. First, you’ll need “pink salt”, used for preserving meats. Finding pink salt is a little challenging but if you live in Seattle or Portland you can pick up a package at Market Supply Company. They also have an online shop so you can order from them no matter where you live. Pink salt goes by a variety of trade names but Market Supply’s version is Modern Cure/Speed Cure.
The second challenge is finding room in your refrigerator to store the beef while it’s brining. Ruhlman’s recipe says to add the meat to the pot you made the brine in, which is a large pot, and then it sits in the refrigerator for 5 days. I don’t know about you but real estate in my fridge is at a premium. I mitigated that challenge a bit by putting the meat in a large covered plastic container. It was smaller than the pot and the flat lid allowed me to stack other things on top of it. I’ve seen other recipes that suggest using a large Ziploc bag – they make a two gallon size – and then place it in a container to capture any leaks.
So with those two challenges taken care of the rest is a breeze! Instead of reprinting the recipe here I’m going to link out to a few resources and tell you what I did differently.
First, Ruhlman’s pickling recipe is here. I followed it precisely, except for putting the meat in a plastic container for the five days in the fridge. By using that smaller container I had about a quart of leftover brine. You don’t need to use it all but make sure you have the meat completely covered during the entire brining time.
When it was time to actually cook the meat Tyler Florence’s method sounded more flavorful. You’ll notice he also has a brining method that is very similar to Ruhlman’s. I might try it next time.
I didn’t like anyone’s recommended method for cooking the cabbage. Most recipes add it to the meat pot near the beginning of the cooking time. I’m sorry, but cooking cabbage for three hours or so, sounds absolutely disgusting to me. You’d have a big pile of slimy mush at the end of three hours. Instead, after I’d removed the meat from the cooking liquid to let it rest, I also removed all the vegetables cooked in the pot to flavor the liquid. (Little note here… I would not recommend eating these vegetables, either. The cooking liquid gets really salty which would result in very salty vegetables. More about that in a minute.) Then I added the sliced cabbage to the cooking liquid and put the pan back in the oven so the cabbage cooked for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, while the meat rested and I finished preparing the rest of the meal. It was perfectly cooked, if I do say so myself. Removing the vegetables before adding the cabbage makes it easier to remove and drain the cabbage when it’s done cooking.
Back to the vegetables. I roasted baby carrots, turnips and parsnips and then drizzled them with a herb butter. Instead of boiled potatoes, which is traditional, I opted for mashed potatoes mixed with roasted garlic, a lot of butter and a mixture of cream and milk. But all of that is really your choice.
I’m sorry there aren’t better photos of the meal because it was delicious! The meat was delicious, moist, tender and better than the already-pickled corned beef I’ve had in the past. But I was too busy pulling it all together at the end to take photos – mostly because my timing had been a little off all day long. In theory, serving time shouldn’t be that busy. So the photo at the top is the little piece of corned beef that was leftover. It’s being sliced for a corned beef on pumpernickel sandwich! You’ll notice a little stripe in the middle, which was more pronounced towards the center of the brisket. That’s where the brine had not completely penetrated the brisket during the 5-day brining period. I notice some recipes call for brining up to 10 days. But 5 days seemed fine. That strip didn’t affect the taste at all.
The photo below is of the table before guests arrived. I liked the greenish theme. It was St Paddy’s day, after all!
This process was painless. If you are a corned beef fan try this out. If you’re not a corned beef fan, make this recipe and you might become one!